Social Benchmarking: How You Know You're Killing It On Social Media

Rival IQ’s Danica Benson discusses the importance of social benchmarking and offers three steps for getting started.

This guest post comes to us from Danica Benson, marketing communications manager at Rival IQ

Imagine you’re on a little league baseball team. You’re up to bat. You swing and hit, sending the ball far over the second baseman’s head. You take off to first, see the outfielders running to the fences, fly past second base and onto third. The center fielder overthrows the ball as you sprint toward home, kicking dirt into sky behind you. Everyone is screaming, clapping and shouting! A home run! You feel on top of the world!

No matter which league you play in, be it little league or the MLB, a home run is successful. But, what if the pitcher walked you? In little league nobody claps, screams, or cheers. The next batter comes up, and you feel bummed out. But, not necessarily in the MLB. A walk is a strategic move. You’re on base. It’s only one base hit away from scoring position. A walk has the potential to be a game-changer and is considered a success. How is this so?

The benchmark determining success is different in the MLB than in little league. It’s the same performance in both cases, but a different interpretation of success. The same idea applies when measuring your social media activity — what is considered a successful engagement rate, number of followers, or content in one industry isn’t the same as the next.

Benchmarks require context

Benchmarks are key when interpreting data. Organizations of all kinds — large corporations, small privately owned business, nonprofits, and even sports teams — need to measure their performance to see if they’re efforts are leading to success.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) like Net Promoter Score (NPS) at a company, number of clicks on a social post, or a player’s batting average tells someone a lot about what is happening as a result of their activities. But it tells them nothing in terms of whether their efforts are successful, failing, or where to focus to close up those gaps. Why? Because benchmarks are relative.

3 steps to successful social benchmarking

Establishing benchmarks relative to your top competitors, like audience size and engagement rate, are meaningful because you are comparing to others like you who are fighting for the attention of the same audience. Without context, your metrics are what we call a “so what?” metric. We have 1,500 followers on Facebook… so what? Do we need more? Is that a good amount? These numbers only mean something if you have a benchmark for comparison.

At Rival IQ, measuring digital marketing performance begins with setting competitive benchmarks. To develop an effective social media strategy, you need contextual data. Analytics are great, but not if you don’t have context to compare your data. There are a couple of ways to do this: by comparing your organization’s metrics to itself, or by keeping tabs on your competitors. Using these methods, you can compare apples to apples and see growth in your organization, as well as how well you’re doing compared to your competitors.

Step #1: Know YOUR organization’s internal benchmarks

First and foremost, get to know your numbers. Identify your metrics and compare them to how you did last month (MoM) or last year (YoY). You always want to outperform yourself, so these benchmarks give you a base to start from and allow you to see if your activities are resulting in growth. Benchmarks can help you understand where your performance has been in the past, and help you create realistic expectations for the future.

But, what do you do if you don’t have any historical data to work with because you’re just starting up your analytics? I recommend looking at industry benchmarks, which you can find on websites such as Kissmetrics and MailChimp.

Step #2: Know your competitive benchmarks

Measuring your performance against your competitors gives you business intelligence you can use to make better decisions — especially if you’re struggling to earn social media attention. It’s too easy to think that we can just type, “What’s a good engagement rate for Instagram?” in a Google search to find a benchmark that means anything. What you will find are general figures calculated using everyone who uses the platform, which is great if your target audience is everyone who uses Instagram (not likely).

Go deeper than your industry by building your social benchmarks from scratch. Hand-select your direct competitors and look at metrics, such as:

  • Which social channels do they use?
  • How does the content differ between channels?
  • When and how often are they posting on social media?
  • What type of content are they sharing? Are they posting updates, photos, videos, live video, .gifs?
  • What do their engagement rates look like?
  • How many followers do they have?

Setting your social marketing strategy using your own landscape of competitors will give you a realistic, attainable goal. Accurate, relevant benchmarks are the first step in paving the way toward gaining a competitive advantage.

Step #3: Track, test & tweak

Now that you’ve reviewed your organization’s performance and can measure if it’s trending upward (or not), and you have established your benchmarks relative to your competitors, you track, test and tweak.

Track performance

By tracking your performance over time, you will be able to see if your audience is getting bored with your usual posts and may need to change your tactics. By monitoring your competitors, you can learn what content works well and take advantage of opportunities they may be missing.

Never stop testing

Social media is a great place to test things out, like new ads, campaigns, copy, contests, surveys, images, etc. Secondly, they give you feedback, fast! Find out what your audience likes on social first, then learn from your wins and failures. Take what you learn about your audience on social media and apply it to other marketing activities.

Tweak for optimization

This goes hand-in-hand with testing. Once you’ve tested a few things and have identified what’s working, tweak it and test it again to optimize it. Find the sweet spot. Social media is always changing, so there will always be more work to do.

Just as with all good strategies, you have to continually measure success and adjust based on real-world results. Competitive analytics is a great way to set social media benchmarks by basing them on companies you aspire to beat. If you aren’t beating the competition, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

Originally from the Portland Metro Area, Danica Benson migrated north to work as a marketer in the startup arena. As the marketing communications manager at Rival IQ, she’s bringing her passion to the tech world. Outside of the office, Danica spends her free time on outdoor adventures and exploring the great city of Seattle.

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